Nanoparticles Under The Knife

A team of Carnegie Mellon University chemists led by professor Rongchao Jin have conducted the first site-specific surgery on a nanoparticle. This procedure allows researchers to tailor nanoparticles with absolute precision, creating them for almost any purpose — meaning it will significantly advance nanochemistry.

The surgical technique itself will allow scientists to enhance whichever functional properties of nanoparticles are most useful for a given application. For example, nanoparticles may have catalytic properties or exhibit photoluminescence. Using the technique, these qualities could be magnified for use in almost any field from medicine to manufacturing.

“Nanochemistry is a relatively new field, it's only about 20 years old. We've been racing to catch up to fields like organic chemistry that are more than 100 years old,” Jin told “Organic chemists have been able to tailor the functional groups of molecules for quite some time, like tailoring penicillin for better medical functions, for example. We dreamed that we could do something similar in nanoscience. Developing atomically precise nanoparticles has allowed us to make this dream come true.”

Image Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Precise Control

To make this “nano-surgery” happen, the team first had to create atomically precise nanoparticles that they could reproduce reliably. Then, they set out to identify each particle's structure and the functionality and properties that went along with it. Ultimately, the team performed the surgery on gold nanoparticles composed of 23 gold atoms with staple-like structures forming a protective surface layer.

Removing two of those staples revealed the connection between the surface layer of gold nanoparticles and photoluminescence, and allowed its photoluminescence to be enhanced by about tenfold. Among its many applications, photoluminescence is critical to cancer diagnosis and biological imaging, but the team is working to generalize the technique for use with other nanoparticles, too.

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